£52 billion furlough scheme abuse could be 'biggest fraud in British history'

2 March 2021, 10:48 | Updated: 2 March 2021, 10:50

By Fiona Jones

Covid-19 Fraud Watch chair David Clarke tells LBC the abuse of pandemic financial aid 'could be the biggest fraud in British history', as it a report is revealed ahead of the Budget.

His warning comes as a leaked Whitehall report suggests the Government is losing around £52 billion a year to exploitation of the furlough scheme, emergency grants and loans introduced during the pandemic.

This loss, which amounts to around £1 billion a week, is more than the entire defence budget and could be reaching 'epidemic' levels, according to the report.

Rishi Sunak will unveil his crucial budget on Wednesday having warned the British public that finances will face “enormous strains” due to lockdown.

"It could be the biggest fraud in British history," said Mr Clarke.

He told Nick Ferrari the Chancellor did a "fantastic job" and denied the suggestion he brought in financial aid "too early" without the correct security measures.

However he added that "there were things that could have been done" by the Government to prevent fraud, questioning why a fraud task force is only being set up this March when charities started the Covid-19 fraud watch task force last March.

Nick asked whether any of this lost money will be clawed back.

Mr Clarke said, "They'll get a lot back... I have great faith in HMRC, the police and Government. People will report it and I encourage listeners if you suspect somebody of fraud, and they've taken it, then report them.

"We must act now."

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told LBC "we can't be hard enough" on fraudsters: "For every pound that they steal that's a pound less for supporting legitimate businesses."

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